How Children In Cults May Use Emancipation Laws To Free Themselves
Robin A. Boyle, J.D.
St. John�s University School of Law
The author examines how children
who are born into cults or brought into them at a young age can use state
emancipation laws to gain independence when they are in their mid-teens, so long
as they can demonstrate criteria that their states have established. Commonly,
states require a showing that the minor has achieved some level of economic
self-sufficiency and can live emotionally and physically independently from his
or her parents. There are some difficulties for cultic children in
demonstrating these criteria, but the obstacles are not insurmountable.
American jurisprudence and shared family values promote
harmonious relations within families. However, the reality for many families is
that children, before reaching the statutory age of majority in their state,
which is 18, either with or without their parents� consent, seek to free
themselves of parental control. Frequently, these minors also find means to
support themselves. This article focuses more specifically on how emancipation
laws may assist children in cults to gain their freedom. Minors who are in
cults (�cultic children�) were either born or forced into one before the age of
majority because one or both parents were members of the cult. In society at
large, attempting to leave one�s parents could be difficult for most children,
but for cultic children, exiting the family brings even more complexities.
Much has been written about what defines an organization as
a �cult.� Dr. Michael Langone, editor of Cultic Studies Journal, has
devised a checklist of characteristics of cults (see Appendix). He has
suggested that for organizations that meet most of these characteristics, �you
might consider examining the group more closely.�
Children raised in cults undergo unique experiences that
neither adult members nor children in society at large experience. Cultic
children are often separated from their biological parents because most cults
believe in independently indoctrinating these children to be future members, and
because parents are needed to do missionary work that involves travel.
Frequently there are no records of cultic children�s births or deaths. Cultic
children are generally kept out of public schools or structured and traditional
sectarian and non-sectarian schools. Having received no formal educational
training, cultic children lack educational and social skills. Cultic children
often are subjected to emotional and physical abuse, including beatings, incest,
rape, starvation, forced prostitution and denial of medical and dental care.
This article addresses how cultic children may use
emancipation laws, which are available to minors in society at large, to achieve
various degrees of adult status depending upon the laws of their state and their
individual circumstances. As this article describes, lack of educational, job,
and social skills makes it difficult for cultic children to establish the
financial self-sufficiency necessary to achieve emancipation. Cultic children
are often �unprepared for freedom.� But cultic children do successfully exit
cults, and some have done so before the age of majority.
Part I of this article explains our states� laws regarding
how minors can achieve emancipation. Part II provides examples of how cultic
children have apprised themselves of emancipation laws and used them to free
themselves of their cults. The obstacles for achieving emancipation are
discussed in Part III. Differences between complete and partial emancipation
are discussed in Part IV. Part V discusses termination of emancipation status.
In Part VI, the potential for cult leaders and cultic parents to abuse
emancipation laws for purposes other than they are intended is examined. Part
VII suggests that legal reform is necessary to improve the emancipation process.
I. How Minors can Achieve Emancipation Status
For minors seeking emancipation, states� laws vary;
therefore, minors need undergo different legal processes depending upon the
state. States have either court-pronounced rules regarding emancipation, which
is called �judicial� emancipation, or they have legislature-pronounced rules,
which is called �statutory� emancipation. Judicial emancipation usually arises
in the context of a legal case involving a related matter, such as in a case
involving whether parents were liable for their child�s medical bills. Judicial
emancipation can occur across a broad spectrum of lawsuits because parties come
to court for many different reasons, and it is in that larger context, that the
issue of the child�s emancipation arises.
In general, statutory emancipation states provide more
guidance than judicial emancipation states. In those states that have
emancipation statutes, the laws vary from state to state in both substantive and
procedural rules for seeking emancipation. The more complex statutes provide
better guidance than the less specific ones, such as specific criteria that
courts must consider in deciding whether a minor has been living independently
and, therefore, has established grounds for emancipation. The less complex
statutes simply define when minority status terminates, usually automatically
upon the occurrence of certain events such as marriage or military enlistment.
Some states have a minimum age requirement, and some do not. Many emancipation
statutes require that the �best interest of the child� be demonstrated.
Emancipation laws generally provide that children can
initiate terminating their relationships with their parents before the children
reach the age of majority, and some provide specific procedures for minors to
follow, but some states permit the parents to petition as well. Other states�
laws provide that a minor does not need to petition the state for emancipation
and that �self-emancipation� can occur when the minor voluntarily leaves home
and supports herself. In such states, if there is no opposition from the
minor�s parents, the minor does not need to go to court in order to establish
Upon receiving emancipation status, the emancipated minor
is afforded the rights and privileges of an adult to varying degrees, depending
upon the state. For emancipated adolescents seeking to live independently, the
status of �minor� can be a hindrance. In society at large, and for cultic
children as well, the legal status of a �minor� means she �lacks capacity� and
possesses �disabilities� by reason of her age, which, by definition, is below
that of �majority.� The disabilities of a minor include the inability to enter
into contracts with third parties, to establish a residence separate from her
parents, to consent to medical care, and to govern her own life. In judicial
emancipation, courts have pronounced that minors are emancipated, but have
failed to take away the hindrances of the disabilities. The result has been
that the minor was unable to function as an adult even though the parents have
been relieved of support obligations. Some state statutes address the rights of
the emancipated child relative to third parties by permitting emancipation
concomitant with extinguishing disabilities and gaining legal rights as adults.
These states require a public recording of the emancipation decree to put third
parties on notice. This serves to remove disabilities such as the presumption
of the minor�s incapacity to enter into binding contracts.
Regardless of whether statutory or judicial emancipation is
the vehicle, each case is examined based upon the factual circumstances
surrounding that particular family. In states with emancipation statutes, the
statutes themselves provide guidance; in states without such statutes, courts
use prior cases as guideposts. In both judicial and statutory emancipation,
courts look back in time at how the child at the center of legal controversy has
been surviving during the past year or so. Courts also look forward to estimate
whether the child�s self-sufficiency will continue. Self-sufficiency is the
focus of emancipation laws.
The more common factors in determing emancipation are
whether the minor is financially self-supporting, whether she is living at home,
and the number of years she is from majority. For example, in a judicial
emancipation case, an Idaho court weighed heavily the minors� financial
self-sufficiency, which was demonstrated by his full-time employment, financial
independence, lack of financial support and parental supervision from either
parent, time spent living away from home, and that neither parent claimed him as
a dependent on his or her tax return. As a result, the court found that the
16-year old minor was emancipated. Courts will also take into account a
multitude of other facts. For instance, a Kentucky court found a live-at-home
20-year old to be emancipated not just because she was financially independent,
but also because she exercised independent discretion as to whether she attended
church and frequented the movies, bought her own furniture, carried her own life
insurance, took vacations independently of her parents, and maintained her own
States� laws lack uniformity regarding what source
of income a minor may claim to establish emancipation. For example, in
California, a minor is considered indigent and without means of support if she
is subsisting totally on public assistance benefits. In contrast, Connecticut�s
emancipation statute permits the minor to claim any source of income to
establish financial independence, as long as it is lawful.
Generally speaking, a cultic child who seeks emancipation,
in either a judicial or statutory emancipation state, would need to demonstrate
that she was maintaining economic self-sufficiency. The broad factual
circumstances existing in her situation would also be taken into account.
Emotional and physical independence from parents are also relevant factors.
II. Examples Cultic Children Who Used Emancipation Laws
to Free Themselves from Their Cults
Anecdotal evidence reveals that some cultic children have
used the emancipation laws to achieve freedom. �Evan� was in a cult and
successfully achieved emancipation for a limited purpose. As a minor Evan and
his brother were born into a religion-based �church� in the Northeastern United
States. His father left the church and his family when Evan was 3 years old.
Evan, his brother and his mother remained in the church. They shared houses
with as many as forty other church members. His family moved from state to
state, but most recently they lived in New York. For most of Evan�s early life,
he lived under relatively clean and uncrowded conditions, unlike those at other
church sites, which, in one case, reportedly housed as many as 170 people in a
2500 square foot loft.
In the ninth through mid-eleventh grades, Evan attended a
Christian high school that was not affiliated with his church. When he was not
in school, at the urging of the church, Evan attended lengthy church services in
the evenings and non-school days. The pastor of the church controlled much of
what went on in his life and in the lives of the members. Evan recalled how
frequently members were forced to reveal sins publicly to other members and ask
for forgiveness. He witnessed adult members being publicly humiliated by other
members and young male members being beaten by elder members. Minors were not
permitted to date each other. Evan described the level of control by the pastor
as, �Everything he said, goes. If he said television is bad - everyone would
throw out his or her TV set.�
All members were compelled to work in church businesses.
Evan was coerced to do manual labor for the church from the time he was 12 years
old, for which he was never paid. He worked mostly on construction projects,
and sometimes he did carpet and floor cleaning, upholstery work, woodwork, and
painting. According to Evan, the church operated a number of profitable
businesses, including carpet cleaning, building construction and renovation, and
When Evan turned 17, and was beginning the third semester
of the 11th grade in his Christian high school, his mother took him out of
school so that he could spend more time with the church. Evan did not want to
leave the school where he had made friends outside of the church and he was
excelling in his studies. Furthermore, he discovered that there was no tutoring
occurring in the home schooling by the church; rather, the children were sent to
a room to read texts, to be tested only by self-administered written exams.
Evan felt that the elders were indifferent to the education of the children. In
Evan�s view, the church leaders felt threatened by the Christian school he
attended, because it prepared eleventh-graders for college. According to Evan,
if young church members went to college, the church would lose its ongoing
membership and some of its labor force.
At the time that Evan was battling with his church over his
school choice, the church moved him, his mother and younger brother to another
group home where the �conditions were bad.� Evan found there were
roaches and mice in this house, and that no one was cleaning the bathrooms.
Frustrated with the poor housing conditions, Evan left and went to a friend�s
house. A church member followed him, and for the next two days his mother and
other members tried to persuade him to return. Evan sought assistance from
former church members who understood why Evan wanted to leave the church. AFF
gave advice, as did the non-profit agency - The Door. As a result, Evan began
working toward attaining emancipation status.
Because New York does not have an emancipation statute for
minors, Evan had to rely on judicial emancipation law. Agencies that counsel
adolescents, such as The Door, as well as high school guidance counselors are
generally aware that there are three common law criteria used to determine if a
minor has been living in an emancipated status. To establish emancipation, a
minor needs to demonstrate that she 1) has been living on her own, separate from
her parents; 2) has been receiving no financial assistance from parents or
guardians, and is self-sufficient; and 3) has been managing her own financial
affairs. Because New York does not afford complete emancipation rights to
minors, even to those who meet these three criteria, Evan sought to demonstrate
that he was emancipated for a limited purpose. Evan�s purpose of establishing
emancipation was to convince school administrators that he was capable of
deciding on his own to attend the school.
Evan was not able to obtain an official court document
stating that he had achieved emancipation because there are no court procedures
governing emancipation in New York. The Door assisted Evan in providing him
with a letter that he presented to his school. The letter stated that based
upon factual circumstances, it appeared that Evan would be capable of managing
his own affairs independent of his church group.
Evan was able to demonstrate to the high school that he was
capable of deciding that he wished to remain in school and that he had achieved
a modicum of emancipation. A family outside of the church rented a bedroom to
him, and he obtained a job outside of the church to pay rent and other necessary
expenses. Exiting the church was emotionally painful for Evan because he loved
his mother, but he needed to escape the deplorable living conditions of the
church and attend the high school of his choice. Evan has since graduated from
the high school of his choice, gone through basic military training, and he is
now gainfully employed with the military. He hopes that his brother and mother
will soon exit also, so that they can all live together outside the church.
Another example of how emancipation laws have assisted
minors in cults is the case of a minor named �John.� John was attempting to
leave a religious organization reputed to be a destructive cult. His mother,
who was in the group, raised him. He had moved from state to state in the
southeastern United States with this group for most of his life, until he exited
by flying to Denmark where he found the assistance of a non-profit �safe
house.� Through his friends in the states, John contacted legal counsel in a
few of the southern states concerning the laws of emancipation, but decided to
pursue legal emancipation in Denmark.
III. Difficulties for Cultic Children in Demonstrating
It may be difficult for a child who has been raised in a
cult, or who has spent much of her recent history in one, to demonstrate
economic self-sufficiency in her quest for emancipation for several reasons.
First, cult members� labor may not easily parlay into mainstream employment
skills. Second, cultic children often suffer from deficient social skills
necessary to maintain a job in society at large. Third, cult leaders are likely
to oppose a cultic child�s attempts to excel in school and/or gain outside
employment. Fourth, cultic children, such as Evan discussed above, who provide
their own labor for the cult often do not receive direct compensation and are
not permitted control over their own finances. Finally, cultic children are
often raised in group living situations, even if they are separated from their
parents, which would make demonstrating a history of self-sufficiency less
A. Obstacles On Account of Deficient Job and Social
Skills and Educational Experience
�Andrew� is a former child cultist who felt limited in
terms of technical job skills. As a former member of a psychological/political
cult who was brought into the organization by his parents when he was two years
old, Andrew found that the group restricted his educational experience and gave
him limited employment skills. When he left the group at 23, he had meager
carpentry experience, but he was able to parlay these minimal skills into a
full-time carpentry job.
Upon entering the workforce, Andrew found that because of
the stultifying teachings of the group, he was deficient in social skills that
are necessary to get along with coworkers. The group had restricted
conversation solely to that of the dogma of its leader. Andrew was trained to
feel guilty about conversing with anyone - inside or outside of the group -
about topics not pertaining to the scriptures of the organization, and had felt
guilty when he violated this training. When Andrew came out of the group and
began to interact with others at his workplace construction site, he learned to
acquire a sense of humor and to talk about subjects other than religion. With
the help of exit counselors, Andrew adjusted to mainstream work and society, and
eventually attended college and graduated with an engineering degree. He is
currently happily employed.
Andrew�s mother, �Barbara,� had similar recollections of
Andrew�s childhood--particularly about his limited education. She had abdicated
parental involvement in Andrew�s life for the good of the leader and the group.
Barbara had believed that the group�s leader was Andrew�s parent. What she had
wanted most from her son was that he be �a good little member� so that the
leader would view her, in turn, as a good member. The leader discouraged Andrew
from participating in sports, even though there was one sport that he liked to
play, and he was forced to abandon it. Andrew attended a high school that was
not affiliated with the cult, and his mother recalled how Andrew was discouraged
from doing well in his high school studies because excelling in anything was
threatening to the leader. Consequently, she never attended a parent-teacher
event or any school function. Any kindness or nurturing that Barbara had
attempted to direct towards Andrew was ridiculed by the group as �maternal
�Carl� had limiting experiences similar to Andrew�s, even
though Carl was a member of a different group and lived in a different
country. At age 13, Carl�s parents brought him into a cult, which he
eventually left at age 26. Carl described the group as having been founded in a
South American country, and claiming to have branches in 22 countries. The
leader and the ideology of the group advocated anti-communism, illegality of
divorce, pre-Vatican Catholicism, and anti-agrarian reform. According to the
teachings of the group, the world was controlled by one entity, called the
�Revolution,� which was headed by Jews who were always referred to in derogatory
terms. The group viewed itself as spearheading the counter-revolution.
Carl suffered verbal, emotional, and physical abuse from
his parents while they were members of this group, as well as humiliation,
verbal abuse and strict ideology from the group leaders. Against the wishes of
the group, he took classes and trained himself in computer skills. Carl
eventually left the group, and he presently runs his own computer consulting
business in the United States.
These histories portray some of the difficulties that
cultic children may have in achieving emancipation. They often have limited
education and few job skills. Emancipation may be denied if the child is
financially dependent on her parents or the cult because there is a
court-imposed duty for parents to financially support their children.
Emancipation may also be denied if the child cannot show a means of supporting
herself. But lack of financial independence is not necessarily fatal to the
child�s emancipation prospects as the histories of Andrew and Carl demonstrate.
B. Obstacles On Account of Group Living Situations-Lack
of Economic Self-Sufficiency
Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer, a clinical psychologist and
expert on cults and psychological manipulation, has observed that it is a
prevalent phenomenon for parents and children in cults to be separated from one
another. Even though they may have been living apart from their parents,
however, cultic children who attempt to exit cults and attain emancipation
status may encounter difficulties in demonstrating that they have achieved
independence. In group living situations, the cultic children most likely would
not be managing their own financial affairs.
Carl, discussed above, was separated from his biological
family when he was sent abroad. He recalled that the group convinced his
parents that a non-Christian revolution was occurring in American schools.
According to Carl, in order for him to be properly instructed in the Christian
counter-revolution, the group, with the consent of his parents, took him out of
school in the United States at the age 15 and sent him to Brazil, the
headquarters of the organization, without his parents. He perceived that his
parents were happy to relinquish parental rights, which were onerous to them.
In Brazil, Carl�s life was controlled by the group. He was
introduced to more �bizarre� acts than those he had witnessed by the group in
the U.S. The leader mandated that members of the cult attend long-winded
meetings that went until late at night or early in the morning. They were called
upon arbitrarily to recite from memory the teachings of the leader. If members
failed to do a proper reading, they were jeered and forced out of the
auditorium. While not in meetings, members were required to study the writings
of the leader or the �Bible� of the organization.
Carl was often subjected to other group rituals and
�intense ceremonies,� which included a �monastic� ceremony where members were
expected to take vows of chastity, silence and poverty. In these ceremonies, an
accused member who was found to be sinful would be subjected to punishment that
could include bread and water for a week, or forced to stand for hours on end
with his arms outstretched in the shape of a cross.
The cult discouraged outside employment, yet it had taken
out a credit card in his name and may have been planning to renege on paying the
debt. Carl chose to get a job as a security officer to pay this bill.
Carl found that there was an �intensity� about living in
Brazil with this group, which was overwhelming and �terrifying� for him. While
in Brazil, he had attempted to send letters to his parents asking them to take
him back, but his letters were intercepted by the group�s leaders, and he was
subjected to pressure to stay. When communication eventually reached his
parents, they told him that he must stay with the group in Brazil. In order to
maintain his visa, he had to cross the border several times, and each time was a
�bizarre and scary adventure� as he was at the mercy of cult members from
�Debra� was born into an international religious cult.
She, like Carl, experienced separation from her parents while living with the
cult, living instead with other members abroad. She was dubbed a "blessed
child� (meaning she was born without sin) because she was the first child born
of the church in the Western Hemisphere. She was devastated when the church
separated her from her parents and sent her to Korea as a young teenager to
learn the teachings of the cult leader. She reported that many children were
separated from their parents and that this caused great emotional turmoil. She,
along with other children in the church, suffered loneliness and depression.
They were raised, however, together as a group.
Andrew, described above, also observed separation of
families in the cult in which he was raised. He saw his cult destroy families
for what it considered to be the greater good of the cult. The family unit was
perceived as threatening to the organization. His immediate family stayed
intact only because his parents were spiritual leaders, but his parents were cut
off from their parents, which eliminated any chance for Andrew to have a
relationship with his grandparents. He recalled his grandparents being
distraught. While his family stayed together, Andrew rarely saw his parents
because they were busy teaching, publishing, and attending classes for the
organization. Andrew reported that his childhood cultic friends also were
separated from their parents and shuttled from place to place.
These examples show that while it seems that children
separated from their parents within their cults could more easily establish
their financial independence, the truth is that the cults maintain control over
the child. Because financial self-sufficiency is often at the heart of granting
emancipation, cultic children may have difficulties demonstrating such.
Furthermore, a cult leader or other cult members may block
the child�s attempts to exit the organization. A cult leader and other members
may also try to assist or force the parent to intervene in the child�s legal
proceedings to prevent emancipation. In states that provide for statutory
emancipation, courts would likely deny emancipation to a minor if her parents
opposed. Nevertheless the cultic child may conceivably argue that because she
had been living separately from her parents within the cult organization, at
least partial emancipation had been achieved. Whether the courts would look
beyond the narrow definition of biological parents in the cultic context, and
find that the minor was never truly emancipated because she had surrogate
parenting in the larger cultic organization, would need to be determined on a
IV. Complete Versus Partial Emancipation
Minors can be declared as having achieved either complete
or partial emancipation. Complete emancipation occurs when a court relinquishes
the parents of their financial obligations for their child. Partial
emancipation starts when the child is given some rights of independence, but the
parents retain some obligations, usually child support. Partial emancipation
can also be decreed for a limited period of time. Some statutes provide that
minors can receive partial emancipation status for specific medical procedures,
discussed infra in Part IV.C. For instance, Michigan�s statute provides
that an incarcerated minor may have partial emancipation status for purposes of
consenting to medical treatment, but this status ends upon termination of the
A. Complete Emancipation - A Double-Edged Sword
Complete emancipation may result in some or all of the
following, depending upon the state: (1) parental consent is no longer needed
for medical care; (2) the minor can enter into binding contracts with third
parties; (3) the minor can bring a lawsuit in her own name, rather than the name
of a parent or guardian; (4) the minor is free of parental control; (5) the
minor can live separately and establish residence; and (6) the minor is entitled
to her own earnings.
Complete emancipation may be a double-edged sword. The
advantage for the minor is that she achieves full adult status upon attaining
complete emancipation. (The advantage on the parents� side is that vicarious
parental liability is removed, meaning that parents would not continue to be
liable to third parties for the torts of their children.) The disadvantage for
the minor is that emancipation terminates the minor�s right to financial
support. Furthermore, just as emancipated minors may bring lawsuits in their own
name, they can be defendants in a lawsuit. In many instances, therefore, a
middle ground--partial emancipation--may be more advantageous from the minor�s
B. Partial Emancipation
The question of whether a child is completely or partially
emancipated usually arises in the context of who owes money to whom. In the
child support context, for instance, courts are reluctant to find complete
emancipation if the child still needs support. For a minor who wishes to leave
a cult, her living arrangement options may be to live with a family friend, a
foster care family, or some other group home. Possibly, these supportive
networks may entitle her to partial emancipation. If she is granted partial
emancipation status, she may be free to leave a cult and continue to receive
financial support from these outside sources or from her parents who remain in
C. Medical Treatment Cases
Apart from deciding whether minors are self-sufficient
enough to establish emancipation for purposes of carrying on their own financial
affairs, courts and legislatures have been deciding the thorny issue of whether
minors are completely or partially emancipated for purposes of consenting to or
refusing major or nonmajor medical treatment. This issue is of particular
relevance for minors who are in cults, or for minors whose parents are in cults,
because cults often convince their members to refuse medical treatment.
Generally, it is not problematic for courts to decide
whether a minor can give consent to receive medical treatment for a terminal
illness. If medical professionals recommended the treatment, then the state�s
interest in saving the minor�s life and the minor�s interest in having the
treatment would be the same. It is more problematic for courts to decide
whether the minor has a right to refuse life-saving treatment.
Traditionally, common law gave parents responsibility for
deciding whether their child should undergo major and nonmajor medical
treatment. Courts and some state legislatures have carved-out exceptions to the
common law rule, among which are situations involving minors seeking emergency
treatment, mature minors, minors with financial emancipation status, and minors
seeking a specific medical purpose. Most states provide that in emergency
situations, health care workers can provide medical treatment to minors without
parental consent if the parents are unavailable.
In an often-cited case, an Illinois court recognized the
�mature minor� exception for a minor who was a few months away from her 18th
birthday and who refused life-sustaining medical treatment. The Illinois court
found that the minor was emotionally mature enough to make that decision, and
her parents were in agreement with their daughter�s decision. Tennessee and
West Virginia also recognized the mature minor exception. Their courts adopted
the mature minor exception in cases where the minor was emotionally mature and
was capable of refusing or consenting to medical treatment without parents�
A few states have upheld an exception to the rule that
parents� consent is needed for minors� medical treatment based upon whether the
minor has achieved financial emancipation status. But this exception usually
arises when the medical provider is seeking payment from the minor�s parents for
services rendered to the minor. Florida and Virginia courts have held that the
minors at issue had been financially on their own and independent from their
parents� control before receiving medical care, and thereby the courts released
the parents of financial responsibility to pay the medical bills for the
treatment of these minors. In a case involving whether the minor had the right
to consent, a Washington court recognized that the particular minor at issue was
independent of parental control and was supporting himself, his wife, and child,
and therefore was emancipated for the purpose of giving consent to surgery if he
understood the consequences. The appellate court agreed with the trial court
that it is a jury question as to whether the minor was �sufficiently
intelligent, educated and knowledgeable to make a legally binding decision.� In
that case, the minor had consented to having a vasectomy and then later sued his
doctor for negligence in having performed it.
Whether minors can consent to a one-time medical treatment
has been hotly contested in the courts and the legislatures. Minors generally
have rights, subject in some states to certain conditions, to purchase
contraception, have abortions, and to consent to a continuous course of
treatment for a specific condition or disease, such as alcoholism, drug abuse,
and mental health disorders. The legal issues surrounding contraception and
abortion have received perhaps the most judicial attention from the United
States Supreme Court. The High Court has declared void a number of state
statutes that gave parents the ultimate authority over whether their child could
have an abortion. In balancing the rights of the child with those of the
parents, and in considering the states� interests, the Court advised states to
adopt judicial bypass options whereby minors seeking an abortion were given the
alternative of seeking consent from a court rather than from their parents.
Children�s rights advocates have argued in favor of the
rights of mature minors to be able to refuse treatment and have asked courts and
legislatures for better clarification of the laws. Currently, the law enables
minors to refuse medical treatment, usually in the context of nonmajor medical
decisions. A science and medical journalist has additionally observed that
hospitals are less likely to intervene in decision-making when the medical
procedure is a simple one, but they are more likely to intervene if the
procedure is a complex one-such as open-heart surgery.
As controversies regarding medical services and free
exercise of religion continue to evolve, cultic children will continue to be at
the center of these disputes. For example, courts will be deciding who has the
right to decide about medical treatment for a child when her parents, and
perhaps the child, have religious views that are contrary to traditional
For cultic children, even nonterminal illnesses can bring
consternation from the group�s leader. Barbara described how her son, Andrew,
had been diagnosed as having an ulcer. The group then engaged in a study into
the causes of ulcers and eventually concluded that Andrew developed his ulcer
because he harbored resentment towards the group. The group excoriated him for
In some cases, parents have been charged with neglect of
their child when they have failed to seek medical treatment for their child on
account of religious beliefs. However, prosecutors and state agencies have not
automatically done so because, by 1983, almost every state had adopted religious
exemptions to state child abuse and neglect statutes. The law continues to
evolve on the issue of who decides about necessary medical treatment for
V. Termination of Emancipation Status
Emancipation is not necessarily permanent. For instance, a
court may terminate emancipation if there has been a change in circumstances,
and given the age of the children involved, their circumstances often change.
Some statutes provide for revocation of emancipation status if, for instance,
the marriage, which once entitled the child to emancipation, was annulled. Not
all states have statutes that specifically provide a mechanism to undo
emancipation, and judicial emancipation generally does not provide for such a
mechanism. An example of a state that does have such a statute is California,
which provides that one may present a �petition to void a declaration of
emancipation� on the grounds that the declaration was obtained by fraud or the
withholding of material information. It further provides that one may �petition
to rescind a declaration of emancipation� on grounds that the minor is indigent.
VI. The Potential for Abuse of Emancipation Laws
Emancipation statutes provide relief to minors who wish to
leave abusive and neglectful family situations. However, there have been
reported misuses of the system. One study revealed that families have abused
the purpose of statutory laws by creating the false impression of emancipation,
such as having the minor establish a separate residence immediately prior to the
court hearing. The same study also indicated that in many situations, parents
used statutory procedures to �end [their] responsibility for more ordinary
teenagers who lacked the experience, resources, or desire to live
Emancipation laws limit parents� power to control their
children. Hypothetically, this may fit the designs of cult leaders who
aggressively recruit young, new members. Cult leaders apprised of emancipation
laws may potentially encourage minors to emancipate themselves from their
families before joining cults.
Conversely, parents who are cult members might abuse
emancipation laws for the purpose of freeing themselves from the onerous
financial burdens of supporting their children. Parents have done this in
society at large. For instance, in child support cases, parents responsible for
paying child support have argued that payments to the custodial parent were
unnecessary because the minor has been self-supporting and, therefore, was
emancipated and causing no additional expense to the custodial parent. In such
disputes, parents, usually fathers, use emancipation laws as a defense. When
fathers have challenged their responsibility to continue child support
obligations for their daughters who gave birth to out-of-wedlock children,
courts have been divided over whether the minor became emancipated by virtue of
giving birth. It is conceivable that cultic parents could also use emancipation
laws as a defense in similar ways.
Parents who are cult members may also abuse emancipation
laws for purposes of releasing themselves from liability to third parties. In
society at large, creditors have sought payment from parents for debts of their
children, and parents have argued that their minors were emancipated, relieving
the parents of responsibility for necessities. Lawmakers and courts should be
cautious of granting emancipation status to minors when the motivation comes
from someone other than the minor.
VII. Suggestions for Legal Reform
In doing legal research for John, discussed supra
Part II, who asked for legal advice regarding the emancipation laws in various
states, it became apparent that the states with statutory schemes provided more
guidance than those without. Furthermore, the statutory emancipation states with
the more specific guidelines outlining the processes of emancipation were the
most helpful. Judicial emancipation states should consider adopting statutes
that outline the process of attaining emancipation. On the other hand,
statutory states should provide for thorough court hearings before granting
Cultic children encounter circumstances that children in
society at large do not, and for these reasons emancipation laws could better
address the broader range of problems that these children endure. Currently,
emancipation laws, whether judicial or statutory, focus primarily on granting
majority status to those who have already been self-sufficient. This is
understandable given that our states do not want to encourage an abundance of
minors on public assistance. As discussed in this article, many cultic children
would have difficulty demonstrating past economic self-sufficiency.
Future emancipation statutes could provide for having a
sufficiently mature minor (either by virtue of age or a finding of emotional
maturity) submit a plan to the court establishing a means for future
self-sufficiency. The viability for such a plan would be determined on a
factual case-by-case basis, and could conceivably include living arrangements
with other adults or emancipated minors, having secured at least a modest level
of employment, and/or encompassing future educational arrangements.
Partial emancipation has been found appropriate in certain
circumstances. Future statutes could include provisions for partial
emancipation status upon showing that one or both parents are financially able
to support the minor, but that the living situation was unsound and therefore,
in the best interests of the child, living separately is preferable. One or
both parents would be responsible for continuing to provide financially for the
partially emancipated minor who otherwise would live separately and manage her
Such statutes could also permit an exception to the
requirement that the minor must demonstrate a past history of self-sufficiency.
Such an exception could permit the minor to provide reasons for feeling
compelled to leave the �home� such as having lived in unsound and unsatisfactory
physical conditions, having been physically, emotionally or mentally abused,
and/or having been denied educational opportunities. The proposed statute could
also relax the requirement that parents� consent is necessary for the minor�s
emancipation if this exception is met, which would greatly aid the cultic child.
Furthermore, such statutes could require that the
emancipation petition be one of the minor�s choosing. This requirement would
help to reduce the frequency of petitions that are brought by parents wishing to
unload their financial support burdens by relinquishing responsibility for
minors who are not prepared for independence. This requirement would also
hinder cult leaders who might potentially abuse the emancipation laws in their
recruitment or retaining of minor cult members.
Living circumstances for adolescents do change over time,
which is why some statutes provide for termination of emancipation status. To
provide future monitoring of an emancipated minor�s ability to survive
independently, the proposed statute could include a requirement that if the
minor is granted emancipation status, that she return to court annually until
reaching age 18 for review of the status.
Such statutes would better meet the needs of minors who
live in cults and who would have difficulty showing a past history of
self-sufficiency. It would also reach those minors in society at large who have
been living in abusive homes.
When the parent-child relationship has broken down and
jeopardizes the well being of the child, the mature child should be treated as
an autonomous individual. The United States Supreme Court eloquently framed the
polemical issue of children and cults in Prince v. Massachusetts:
�Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they
are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before
they have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that
choice for themselves.� Those words are particularly relevant for an
ex-cultist like Carl, who claimed that his childhood was �so brutally robbed�
from him by the cult that took over his family. Minors who live in cults and
wish to exit may be able to make use of the emancipation laws provided in
There is no registry documenting cases of cultic children
having used emancipation laws. Anecdotal evidence indicates that few have used
the legal system, although many have left their cultic families before the age
of majority and have attempted to establish financial independence and separate
Cults often aggressively try to get the child to return to
the cult. Cults also use parents to try to win children back to the cult. This
harassment makes it that much more difficult for school and judicial authorities
to permit the child to make choices for herself. Exiting minors are nonetheless
encouraged to seek legal advice from lawyers or nonprofit agencies that counsel
Oftentimes children who are in cultic groups attend public
schools or community private schools that are not affiliated with cults. Public
and private school guidance counselors, administrators, and teachers should
become familiar with emancipation laws of their state in order to provide
information to children who may need it.
Reprinted from: Michael Langone, Mind-Manipulating
Groups: Are you or a Family member a Victim? in CULTS AND PSYCHOLOGICAL
ABUSE: A RESOURCE GUIDE (American Family Foundation, May 1998).
Dr. Langone suggests: �If you check many of these items,
and particularly if you check most of them, you might consider examining the
group more closely. Keep in mind that this checklist is meant to stimulate
thought, not �diagnose� groups.�
The group is focused on a living charismatic leader to whom
members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.
The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
The group is preoccupied with making money.
Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
Mind-numbing techniques (for example: meditation, chanting,
speaking in tongues, debilitating work routines) are used to suppress doubts
about the group or its leader(s).
The group�s leadership dictates - sometimes in great detail - how
members should think, act and feel.
The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for
itself, its leader(s), and members (for example: the leader is considered the
Messiah or an avatar; the group and/or the leader has a special mission to save
The group has a polarized, �we-they� mentality that causes
conflict with the wider society.
The group�s leader is not accountable to any authorities (as are,
for example, clergy with mainstream denominations).
The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends
justify means (for example: collecting money for bogus charities) that members
would have considered unethical before joining.
The group�s leadership induces guilt feelings in members in order
to control them.
Members� subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with
family, friends, and personal pre-group goals and interests.
Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the
Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only
with other group members.
1 See Jessica A. Penkower, Comment, The
Potential Right of Chronically Ill Adolescents to Refuse Life-Saving Medical
Treatment � Fatal Misuse of the Mature Minor Doctrine, 45 DE PAUL L. REV.
1165, 1166 n.6 (Summer, 1996) (�The age of majority in all states is now 18.�).
2 An example of how emancipation has been defined is
Michigan�s statute, which defines �emancipation� as: �termination of the rights
of the parents to the custody, control, services and earnings of a minor.� MICH.
COMP. LAWS ANN. � 722.1 (West 1993 & Supp. 1998).
3 Individuals have contributed their personal
stories to the article about organizations that they have described as �cults�
because they meet many of the characteristics of �cults.� This author has
provided no further analysis, nor offers an opinion, as to whether the
organizations referenced in this piece meet the definition of �cults� or
destructive organizations, but has instead related the stories of the former
members as they have conveyed them publicly to others.
4 The term �minor� used in the article means anyone
under the age of majority in his or her state, which is 18.
5 Michael Langone, Mind-Manipulating Groups: Are
you or a Family Member a Victim? in CULTS AND PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE: A
RESOURCE GUIDE 103 (AFF May 1998) [herinafter Langone, Mind Manipulation].
Other selected essays also provide further useful definitions of �cult.�
See, e.g., Herbert L. Rosedale & Michael D. Langone, On Using the Term
�Cult,� in CULTS AND PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE: A RESOURCE GUIDE 67 (AFF May
1998). An additional article that is useful on the topic has been reprinted and
is available from AFF is Michael D. Langone, Cults: Questions & Answers
(AFF 1988) (originally published as Destructive Cultism: Questions and
6 Langone, Mind Manipulation, supra
note 5, at 103.
7 See Shirley Landa, Warning Signs: The
Effects of Authoritarianism on Children in Cults, AREOPAGUS TRINITY 16, 16
(1989) reprinted in CHILD ABUSE IN CULTS (AFF undated) [hereinafter
Landa, Warning Signs] (�Most cults believe that children, being the
adults of tomorrow, must be removed from the influence of the biological parents
at an early age for indoctrination according to the leader�s beliefs.�); Melinda
Henneberger, At the Whim of Leader: Childhood in a Cult, N.Y. TIMES,
March 7, 1993, at E6, reprinted in CHILD ABUSE IN CULTS (AFF undated)
(�Sometimes, leaders demand that parents abandon their children in order to
devote their energies to full-time missionary work.�).
8 See Landa, Warning Signs, supra
note 7, at 16 (�In many cults no records are kept of children�s births or
deaths.�); Henneberger, supra note 7, at E6 (describing standoff
with authorities at Waco, Texas and describing how births are not recorded in
9 See Landa, Warning Signs, supra
note 7, at 16; Henneberger, supra note 7, at E6 (describing
schooling as �in-house� for cultic children).
10 See Landa, Warning Signs, supra note
7, at 16 (�Because children in cults are generally not permitted to attend
regular schools, they also lack social graces and ability to communicate and
deal with everyday situations.�)
11 See Shirley Landa, Hidden Terror: Child
Abuse in �Religious Sects and Cults,� (original source unknown) reprinted
in CHILD ABUSE IN CULTS (AFF undated) [hereinafter Landa, Hidden Terror];
Henneberger, supra note 7, at E6 (�Isolation only increases the incidence
of physical and sexual abuse because the children are not monitored by
outsiders.�). This author previously discussed how cultic members can use the
legal system to address abuse. See Robin A. Boyle, Women, the Law,
and Cults: Three Avenues of Legal Recourse-New Rape Laws, Violence Against
Women Act, and Antistalking Laws, 15 (1) CULTIC STUD. J. 1 (1998).
12 See Landa, Hidden Terror, supra note
11; Hearing Before United States Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect,
1 (May 26, 1993) (testimony by The American Academy of Pediatrics), reprinted
in CHILD ABUSE IN CULTS (AFF undated) (voicing concern about religious
exemptions in state child abuse and neglect statutes and reporting that children
have died of bacterial infections and surgically correctable conditions which
could have been prevented with medical treatment); Henneberger, supra
note 7, at E6 (describing how in cults, children�s �ailments are attended by the
laying-on of hands� and how treatment is not sought by the ill because �illness
is seen as the work of the devil� such that �sick people often deny their
symptoms to escape punishment.�).
13 Henneberger, supra note 7, at E6 (pointing
out that children who leave cults suffer from �depression, eating and sleep
disorders, and severe digestive and bowel problems�).
14 Many legal, psychological, and social issues arise
during custody battles when one parent remains in a cult. See
Videotape: Child Custody Issues -- Tom Keiser -- Moderator (American Family
Foundation Annual Conference, May 1998) [hereinafter AFF 1998 Conference]
(available through AFF); Videotape: Effects of Abusive Experience on Families
--Address by Alexandra Stein (American Family Foundation Annual Conference, May
1997) [hereinafter AFF 1997 Conference] (available through AFF).
Grandparents have also been seeking court assistance for visitation and
custodial rights to their grandchildren who remain in cults. Custody and
divorce are topics beyond the scope of this article.
15 See Dana F. Castle, Early Emancipation
Statutes: Should They Protect Parents as Well as Children? 20 FAM. L.Q.
343, 356-63 (1986).
16 See generally id. at 356-57 (�The
issue of judicial emancipation usually arises as a threshold matter which must
be decided because the primary right being sued on is dependent on the presence
or absence of the parent-child relation.�).
17 For example, a larger context may be child
support. See generally Oatey v. Oatey, Nos. 67809 & 67973, 1996 Ohio
App. LEXIS 1685, at *72 (Ohio Ct. App. Apr. 25, 1996) (�The question as to
whether a child is emancipated so as to relieve a parent from the obligation of
child support depends upon the facts and circumstances of each particular
18 See Castle, supra note 15, at
358-63; William E. Dean, Note, Ireland v. Ireland: Judicial Emancipation of
Minors in Idaho: Protecting the Best Interests of the Child or Conferring a
Windfall Upon the Parent? 31 IDAHO L. REV. 205, 215-16 (1994) (explaining
the distinction between judicial and statutory emancipation).
19 For example, California provides what the petition
must contain - including that the minor be a minimum age requirement of 14, who
willingly lives separate and apart from parents or guardians with the consent or
acquiescence of the minor's parents or guardians, and that the minor is managing
his or her own financial affairs. See CAL. FAM. CODE � 7120 (Deering
20 See, e.g., KAN. STAT. ANN. � 38-101 (1993);
LA. CIV. CODE ANN. art. 365 (West 1993); MICH. COMP. LAWS ANN. � 722.4 (West
1993 & Supp. 1998).
21 Compare CONN. GEN. STAT. ANN. � 46b-150
(West 1995) (requiring, among other things, �[a]ny minor who has reached his
sixteenth birthday�), with CAL. FAM. CODE � 7002 (Deering 1996)
(permitting any �person under the age of 18 years� to petition for emancipated
status if she meets certain conditions).
22 See Dean, supra note 18, at 220-21
(�[T]he best interests of the child test is a prerequisite to a decree of
emancipation in virtually all of those states which have emancipation
statutes.�); see, e.g., CONN. GEN. STAT. ANN. � 46b-150b (West 1995).
23 See, e.g., CAL. FAM. CODE � 7120 (Deering
1996) (�A minor may petition the superior court of the county in which the minor
resides or is temporarily domiciled for a declaration of emancipation.�).
24 The California statute further provides procedures
for notice and a judicial hearing. Id. � 7121.
25 See, e.g., CONN. GEN. STAT. ANN. � 46b-150
(West 1995) (providing: �Any minor . . . or any parent or guardian of such
minor, may petition . . . that the minor named in the petition be
emancipated.�) Parents� petitions are not automatically granted. Courts, in
reviewing parents� petitions, have declined to grant them when the familial
circumstances do not indicate that the minor has been living independently and
is economically self-sufficient. See In re Thomas C., 691 A.2d 1140, 1143
(Conn. Super. Ct. 1996) (rejecting parents� petition and finding that the
learning disabled and emotionally immature minor was �totally dependent on them
for food, shelter and necessities, and lack[ed] the educational, emotional and
financial wherewithal and stability to live independently"); In re Addison A.,
No. 91-234, 1992 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1080, at *4 (Conn. Super. Ct. Apr. 10, 1992)
(rejecting parents� petition for son�s emancipation on grounds that son had no
income, was not willingly living separate and apart from his parents, nor was he
managing his own financial affairs); In re Wayne, J. M., No. 101509-01, 1991
Conn. Super. LEXIS 1672 (Conn. Super. Ct. July 15, 1991). In Wayne, the
court rejected the parents� petition for their son�s emancipation. Although it
appeared that the son was not receiving support money from his parents, and that
the son agreed to the petition, nevertheless his father was assuming financial
responsibility for the son�s hospital psychiatric services. The court held,
�Parents may be disappointed with their children. The public policy of
Connecticut is to strengthen the family. Emancipation should not be freely
granted.� Id. At *2.
26 See, e.g., Proctor Hospital v. Taylor, 665
N.E.2d 872, 876 (Ill. App. Ct. 1996) (recognizing that there are three ways in
Illinois for a minor to become emancipated � by a statutory procedure; by
reaching the age of majority, marriage or draft; or by self-emancipation whereby
the minor supports herself voluntarily after leaving her parents� home).
27 See generally Catherine J. Ross, From
Vulnerability to Voice: Appointing Counsel for Children in Civil Litigation,
64 FORDHAM L. REV. 1571, 1571 (1996) (pointing out that �disabilities� at an
early point in history meant �perceived differences in skills and judgment�
between a child and an adult).
28 See Ilse Nehring, Comment, �Throwaway
Rights�: Empowering a Forgotten Minority, 18 WHITTIER L. REV. 767, 806
29 See Dean, supra note 18, at 215-16
(�The impact of the doctrine of judicial emancipation is commonly held to
extinguish only parental rights and duties and not affect the rights and duties
of the minor as to third parties. A few cases have, however, suggested that an
emancipation can affect the rights and duties of the minor as to third parties
30 See id. at 216.
31 See, e.g., CAL. FAM. CODE � 7122 (Deering
1996) (providing that upon a court�s sustaining the emancipation petition, it
�shall be filed by the county clerk�).
32 See generally John C. Polifka, The
Status of Emancipated Minors in Iowa: The Case for a Clearly Drafted Statute,
44 DRAKE L. REV. 39, 44 (1995) (arguing that one of the many problems of
judicial emancipation as opposed to statutory emancipation is that the former
lacks a procedure for public recording of the emancipation decree); Francis C.
Cady, Emancipation of Minors, 12 CONN. L. REV. 62, 64 (1979) (advocating
in favor of the enactment of a �comprehensive� emancipation statute primarily
for the purpose of publicly recording emancipation decrees giving notice to
33 See generally Polifka, supra note 32,
at 43-44 (arguing that Iowa, a common law jurisdiction, suffers from a lack of
predetermined criteria, which would be remedied by statute).
34 See Dean, supra note 18, at 219.
California�s statute, for example, provides that the minor�s petition must set
forth that (1) she is at least 14 years of age, (2) willingly lives separately
from her parents or guardian and with the consent of the parents or guardian,
(3) she has been managing her own financial affairs, and (4) her income is not
derived from any criminal activity. CAL. FAM. CODE � 7120 (Deering 1996).
35 See Ireland, 855 P.2d at 43 (holding that
natural father no longer needed to pay child support to ex-wife for their
emancipated son of 16 years of age). For a thorough discussion of the Ireland
case, see Dean, supra note 18.
36 See Ireland, 855 P.2d at 43.
37 See Carricato v. Carricato, 384 S.W.2d 85
(Ky. 1964) (holding that minor was emancipated and therefore the mother who was
injured in automobile accident caused solely by negligence of the daughter was
entitled to recover from the daughter).
38 CAL. FAM. CODE � 7132 (Deering 1996).
39 CONN. GEN. STAT. ANN. � 46b-150b (West 1995)
(providing that a court may find a minor to be emancipated upon specified
criteria including, �the minor willingly lives separate and apart from his
parents or guardian, with or without the consent of the parents or guardian, and
that the minor is managing his own financial affairs, regardless of the source
of any lawful income . . ..�)
40 Our laws recognize that parents have
responsibilities to their children. Parents have a duty to financially support,
maintain, educate and assert �parental control over the acts of their children.�
Castle, supra note 15, at 350. When parents cease living up to these
responsibilities, all fifty states have asserted the authority to terminate
parental rights, temporarily or permanently, such as by sending children to
foster care. See id. Termination of parental rights is a different kind
of proceeding than one for emancipation because states generally do not initiate
41 �Evan� is a pseudonym. Interview with Emancipated
Minor Ex-cultist, in New York, N.Y. (July 17, 1998) [hereinafter Evan].
42 Telephone Interview with Adult Ex-cultist (June 23,
1998) [hereinafter Adult Ex-cultist].
43 Evan, supra note 41.
45 See Adult Ex-cultist, supra note 42.
46 See Evan, supra note 41.
47 Telephone Interview with Jill Chaifetz, Legal
Director of The Door (Aug. 3, 1998). The Door protected the confidentiality of
individual matters concerning its clients, such as Evan, but did provide useful
information as to legal advice it generally provides to adolescents. This was
particularly helpful for the writing of this article because there are no
statutory guidelines and few reported cases in New York.
48 Interview with Verna Boyle, former Director of
Guidance, Massapequa High School, New York, and former chairperson of Long
Island Counselors Association, New York, N.Y. (August 5, 1998).
49 See Rights & Responsibilities of Young
People: A Guide for Educators & Human Service Providers, 17 Law, Youth and
Citizenship Program, N.Y.S. Bar Ass�n & N.Y.S. Educ. Dep�t (James M. Morrissey
ed., 3d ed. 1997).
50 See discussion, infra Part IV on
complete and partial emancipation. Telephone Interview with Michael Williams,
Legal Counsel of The Door (Nov. 3, 1998) (confirming that New York does not
provide for complete emancipation rights).
51 The criteria are more frequently used by high
school guidance counselors in providing advice to college-bound students as to
whether prospective colleges may provide financial aid. See Interview
with V. Boyle, supra note 48.
52 See Evan, supra note 41.
53 Telephone Interviews with friend of �John�
54 �Andrew� is a pseudonym used for purposes of this
article. For more information, see Videotape: Growing Up In Cultic Groups (AFF
1998 Conference) (available through AFF) [hereinafter Andrew].
55 �Barbara� is a pseudonym used for purposes of this
article. For more information, see Videotape: Effects of Abusive Experiences on
Families (AFF 1997 Conference) (available through AFF) [hereinafter
56 See id.
58 �Carl� is a pseudonym used for purposes of this
article. For more information, see Videotape: Growing Up In Cultic Groups (AFF
1998 Conference) (available through AFF) [hereinafter Carl].
59 See generally Chadwick N. Gardner, Note,
Don�t Come Cryin� to Daddy! Emancipation of Minors: When is a Parent �Free at
Last� From the Obligation of Child Support? 33 U. LOUISVILLE J. FAM. L. 927,
929, 935 (1995) (�Dependency is a central factor in most emancipation
decisions. Contrary to some of the 1970s decisions, several recent cases
preclude emancipation if the child depends on parental support � even if the
parents disapprove of the actions or conduct of their child.�).
60 See Videotape: An Evening With Margaret
Singer--Hana Whitfield--Moderator (AFF 1998 Conference) (available
61 See Carl, supra note 58 &
62 Debra eventually left on her own at age 25.
63 �Debra� is a pseudonym used for purposes of this
article. For more information see Videotape: Growing Up In Cultic Groups (AFF
1998 Conference) (available through AFF).
64 See Andrew, supra note 54 &
65 See, e.g., In re Dupuy, 199 So. 384 (La.
1940) (petitioning minor�s mother refused to consent to his emancipation and the
court declined to grant emancipation without her consent). Research revealed
few reported cases where parents opposed minors� petitions for statutory
66 For a more thorough discussion of the expanding
definition of �family,� see R. Boyle, supra note 11.
67 See Dean, supra note 18, at 217-18.
68 See Nehring, supra note 28, at
805-07; Polifka, supra note 32, at 41 (1995) (arguing �no rational basis�
exists for courts to determine which disabilities end upon judicial emancipation
and which survive).
69 See Nehring, supra note 28, at 805.
70 MICH. COMP. LAWS ANN. � 722.4 Sec.4 (2) (d) & (e)
(West 1993 & Supp. 1998).
71 See, e.g., CONN. GEN. STAT. ANN. � 46b-150d
(West 1995); CAL. FAM. CODE � 7050 (Deering 1996).
72 For example, California�s statute provides: �An
emancipated minor shall be considered as being an adult for the following
purposes: � (d) Ending all vicarious or imputed liability of the minor�s parents
or guardian for the minor�s torts. . . .� � 7050. Note that the states are
divided on whether a child may sue her parents for a tort committed against
her. Compare Dubay v. Irish, 542 A.2d 711, 714 (Conn. 1988) (holding
that parental immunity doctrine bars an unemancipated minor from suing his or
her parent for injuries caused by the negligence of that parent), overruled
in part by Gladwell v. Gladwell, No. CV95319853S., 1995 WL 22548J, at *1
(Conn. Super. Ct. April 10, 1995) (acknowledging exception to parental immunity
doctrine for lawsuits brought by children against parents for sexual abuse)
with Nocktonick v. Nocktonick, 611 P.2d 135 (Kan. 1980) (holding
unemancipated minor may recover damages in an action brought against a parent
for personal injuries caused by the negligence of the parent in operation of a
motor vehicle). See generally Jay C. Laubscher, Note, A Minor
of �Sufficient Age and Understanding� Should Have the Right to Petition for the
Termination of Parental Relationship, 40 N.Y.L. SCH. L. REV. 565, 578-79
(1996) (discussing how children can sue their parents for torts committed by
their parents in some jurisdictions, whereas parents are immune from suits by
their children in other jurisdictions).
73 See Nehring, supra note 28, at
74 See, e.g., In re Sonnenberg, 99 N.W.2d 444,
448 (Minn. 1959) (holding that child who was given up for adoption was partially
emancipated for purposes of terminating the natural parent�s rights and control
of the child, but that the child was entitled to support from other sources).
75 See Jennifer L. Rosato, The Ultimate Test
of Autonomy: Should Minors Have a Right to Make Decisions Regarding Life
Sustaining Treatment? 49 RUTGERS L. REV. 1, 7-8 (Fall 1996).
76 See id. at 17.
77 See, e.g., ALA. CODE � 22-8-4 (1990)
(providing that at a certain age, 14, or circumstance, such as marriage, a minor
is mature enough to consent to medical care); ARK. CODE ANN. � 20-9-602(7)
(Michie Supp. 1997) (providing that an unemancipated minor can consent to
surgical or medical treatment if he or she is �of sufficient intelligence to
understand and appreciate the consequences of the proposed surgical or medical
treatment or procedures, for himself�). Rosato argues that most of the statutes
do not go far enough in permitting minors to decide about life sustaining
treatments. Rosato, supra note 75, at 25.
78 See Rosato, supra note 75, at 19.
79 See, e.g., In Interest of E.G., 549 N.E.2d
322 (Ill. 1989) (holding that minor was emotionally mature enough to be
partially emancipated for purposes of deciding to withhold blood transfusion on
account of the minor�s and parents� religious views as Jehovah�s Witnesses).
80 See Cardwell v. Bechtol, 724 S.W.2d 739
(Tenn. 1987) (holding that doctor was not liable for treating 17 year-old for
back pain because the mature minor exception to the common law rule of parental
consent applied in this case, dismissing parent�s lawsuit for complications that
arose as a result of treatment); Belcher v. Charleston Area Med. Center, 422
S.E.2d 827 (W. Va: 1992) (holding the mature minor exception to the common law
rule of parental consent should apply when the minor is mature, and remanded
this case back to the trial court to determine whether the 17-year-old decedent,
who had been permanently ill, was mature for purposes of providing consent to a
Do Not Resuscitate order that was imposed.)
81 See Ison v. Florida Sanitarium & Benevolent
Ass�n, 302 So.2d 200 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1974) (holding that minor was
emancipated because she had left home and had been completely self-supporting
and finding that parent was not responsible for her medical bill); Buxton v.
Bishop, 37 S.E.2d 755, 757 (Va. 1946) (holding that hospitalized minor was
emancipated because he had supported himself for three years and finding that
father was not responsible for paying son�s hospital bills).
82 See Smith v. Seibly, 431 P.2d 719, 723
(Wash. 1967) (�Thus, age, intelligence, maturity, training, experience, economic
independence or lack thereof, general conduct as an adult and freedom from the
control of parents are all factors to be considered in such a case.�).
83 Id. (affirming trial court�s decision).
84 See id. at 720.
85 See Rosato, supra note 75, at 29-30 &
86 See, e.g., Hodgson v. Minnesota, 497 U.S.
417, 444-45 (1990) (emphasizing that the state has a strong interest in its
young citizens, which extends to the minor�s decision to terminate her
pregnancy, and holding that the two-parent notice requirement of a state statute
without judicial bypass option was unconstitutional); Ohio v. Akron Ctr. For
Reprod. Health, 497 U.S. 502 (1990) (upholding state statute that required
notice to one parent and permitted minors a judicial bypass alternative);
Bellotti v. Baird, 443 U.S. 622, 643, 647 (1979) (striking state statute
requiring parental consent and suggesting judicial bypass alternative as well as
an improved definition of �maturity�); Carey v. Population Serv. Int�l, 431 U.S.
678 (1977) (striking a state statute that prohibited the sale of contraceptive
devices to minors under age 16); Planned Parenthood v. Danforth, 428 U.S. 52
(1976) (striking state statute for, among other things, requiring parental
consent for unmarried minors� abortions).
87 Children�s rights advocates are not always in
agreement with each other and have argued for 1) more autonomy for children in
making decisions that affect them; and 2) expanded state involvement to protect
children against their parents and third parties. See Walter Wadlington,
Medical Decision Making for and by Children: Tensions Between Parent, State,
and Child, 1994 U. ILL. L. REV. 311, 335 (1994).
88 See Susan D. Hawkins, Note, Protecting
the Rights and Interests of Competent Minors in Litigated Medical Treatment
Disputes, 64 FORDHAM L. REV. 2075, 2077 (1996) (arguing that since children
receive greater protection under the Constitution for privacy, they should also
receive a competent minor�s right to make certain medical decisions for
themselves); Rosato, supra note 75, at 10, 18-19 (arguing that the common
law fails to �recognize the importance of these decisions and the capacity of
some minors to make them�). Cf. Penkower, supra note 1, at 1167,
1169 (arguing that the mature minor doctrine is �more an instrument of
paternalism than a conduit of liberty for adolescents� and that it is
�inappropriate to legally sanction a minor�s refusal of necessary medical
treatment under the current formulation of the law�).
89 See Rosato, supra note 75, at 5,
28-29, 33 (arguing that laws have inadequately protected mature minors in making
life-sustaining treatment decisions).
90 See Andrew Skolnick�s Address On Religiously
Motivated Medical Neglect (AFF 1998 Conference).
91 Compare In Interest of E.G., 549 N.E.2d 322
(Ill. 1989) (holding that minor, who was a few months before her 18th birthday,
was emotionally mature enough to be partially emancipated for purposes of
deciding to withhold blood transfusion on account of her religious views as a
Jehovah�s Witness, and her parents had concurred with the minor�s decision),
with In re Long Island Jewish Med� l Center, 557 N.Y.S.2d 239, 243-44 (N.Y.
App. Div. 1990) (declining to recognize mature minor doctrine for terminally ill
adolescent, who was a few months before his 18th birthday, when he and parents
refused to consent to blood transfusion necessary for chemotherapy on grounds
that treatment was contrary to their faith as Jehovah�s Witnesses, and finding
that this particular minor was not mature in his understanding of his own
religious beliefs or the fatal consequences to himself).
92 See Barbara, supra note 55 &
93 See Walker v. Superior Court, 253 Cal. Rptr.
1 (Cal. 1988) (holding that mother who was a Christian Scientist could be
prosecuted for involuntary manslaughter of her 4-year-old daughter who died of
meningitis for having treated her illness with prayer in lieu of medical
94 See Memoranda from Rita Swann, President,
CHILD Inc., to U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1 (undated),
reprinted in CHILD ABUSE IN CULTS (AFF undated). See
Gardner, supra note 59, at 941-44. California statutes provide
exceptional detail as to the procedures for voiding or rescinding emancipation
decrees. CAL. FAM. CODE � � 7130 - 7135 (Deering 1996).
95 See Polifka, supra note 32, at 44.
96 CAL. FAM. CODE � 7131 (Deering 1996).
97 Id. � 7132. See, e.g., MICH. COMP.
LAWS. ANN. � 722.4d (West 1993 & Supp. 1998) (providing for a rescission order
if minor is indigent, her parents agree, and when there is a �resumption of
family relations inconsistent with the existing emancipation order�).
98 See Carol Sanger & Eleanor Willemsen,
Minor Changes: Emancipating Children in Modern Times, 25 U. MICH. J. L.
REFORM 239, 247 (1992) (suggesting that �courts and legislatures have assumed a
unity of interests between the parents and teenage children who seek
emancipation,� but the data revealed that emancipation petitions did not �always
accurately portray the status or desires of many� of the minors).
99 Id. at 242.
100 See generally Polifka, supra note 32,
at 47 (describing how California Department of Social Services providers
advocated for emancipation statutes to resolve problems of mature adolescents
who were living on their own but were unable to conduct personal business
because of the their lack of legal status as a minor); see also Sanger &
Willemsen, supra note 99, at 251 (providing detailed history of the
origins of California�s Emancipation of Minors Act).
101 Compare Maurer v. Maurer,
555 A.2d 1294 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1989) (holding that noncustodial parent
must pay child support for 19-year old son to attend vocational program because
son was not emancipated despite that son worked), with Ireland v.
Ireland, 855 P.2d 40 (Idaho 1993) (holding that noncustodial parent was not
required to continue child support payments for 16-year old son because he had
been financially self-sufficient and custodial parent had no expenses in that
102 See Gardner, supra note 59, at
933-41(discussing case law trends). Compare Hicks v. Fulton County Dep�t
of Family & Children Serv., 270 S.E.2d 254 (Ga. Ct. App. 1980) (holding that
giving birth to out-of-wedlock child did not emancipate the daughter and based
its decision upon daughter�s lack of income), and Wulff v. Wulff, 500
N.W.2d 845 (Neb. 1993) (holding that giving birth may be merely a factor in
determining parental control, but it is not the sole factor, and deciding in
this case that minor was not emancipated), and Griffin v. Griffin, 558
A.2d 75 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1989) (holding that attending college and bearing a
child were not grounds for emancipation and that 21-year-old in such
circumstances was entitled to continued child support), with New Jersey
Division of Youth and Family Services v. V., 381 A.2d 1241 (N.J. Juv. & Dom. Rel.
Ct. 1977) (holding that 17-year-old was emancipated based upon her having lived
away from mother in a foster home for three years and declaring that minor can
make her own decisions as to where to raise her out-of-wedlock daughter), and
Nuckols v. Nuckols, 467 N.E.2d 259 (Ohio Ct. App. 1983) (holding that child who
was 18, the state�s age of majority, became emancipated upon giving birth and
that her father was no longer obligated to pay medical expenses under his
divorce decree that formerly ran until she was 21). Generally, when a
noncustodial parent is responsible for making child support payments, courts
have imposed this duty until the child reaches the age of 21. Therefore, when
the noncustodial parent has later sought a modification of the support
obligation, courts have examined whether the child has become emancipated before
turning 21. See Hicks, 270 S.E.2d at 255; Wulff, 500 N.W.2d at 848;
Nuckols, 467 N.E.2d at 260; Griffen, 558 A.2d at 76.
103 See, e.g., Buxton v. Bishop, 37 S.E.2d 755
(Va. 1946) (holding that 20- year-old had been working since he was 17 and
living away from home for one year before his death, and therefore had been
emancipated, releasing parents of liability for hospital bills).
104 321 U.S. 158, 170 (1944).
105 Carl, supra note 58.
Herbert Rosedale, Esq., President of American Family
Foundation, anticipated the importance of emancipation of cultic children and
inspired the author to write this article. Paul Skip Laisure, Esq., provided
valuable ongoing reviews and comments. St. John�s Associate Dean, Susan J.
Stabile, and law student, Deitrich King, also provided helpful suggestions.
Personal histories of former cult members contributed to making this piece
richer, and the author thanks them for their courage in sharing their
struggles. The basis for this article was a speech given by the author as a
luncheon speaker at the annual conference of the American Family Foundation on
the topic of �Children and Cults,� held May 29-31, 1998 in Philadelphia, PA.
Robin Boyle, J.D. is an assistant legal writing
professor at St. John�s University School of Law in New York City. She has
taught constitutional law and religion at Fordham University�s College of
Liberal Studies in New York City.
Cultic Studies Journal, Volume 16, Number 1 1999